The Ultimate Guide to Dating Love + Sex Love Advice

Did my therapist just compare dating to applying to a job?

Like many people in 2020, I found myself back on the job market. This meant scrolling endlessly—and swiping left often—through job listing after job listing. It was a tedious process and one that I found myself regaling to my therapist during many of our sessions.

While I was deterred by the countless lack of responses and emails starting with, “we regret to inform you…,” my therapist had a more positive outlook on the situation. They noted that job hunting is pretty similar to dating.

I was shocked—and a little disgusted. How could they equate something that should be fun with something that is the opposite of fun? However, the more I reflected, the more I realized my therapist was on to something.

Both dating and job searching have ups and downs, good experiences and terrible experiences. Both offer opportunities to learn about ourselves, our goals, and our wants and needs.

The point of dating and job hunting is to find the best match for us, often by presenting a more polished version of ourselves. Just like in job interviews, we probably shouldn’t go into detail on the woes of bacne or the injustice of fans’ treatment of Zayn post-1D. This isn’t first, second, or even third date material—although it could be for the right person.

Dating is about finding someone whose weird meshes with your weirdness, and the same can be said for job searching. Managers are looking to hire people who are not only qualified but who will be a good fit for the company.

During my job hunt process, I took a fashion risk and wore a leather skirt to an interview. My interviewers were not enthused, and I did not get the job. While it stung at the time, I’m grateful that I wasn’t hired; I would not be a good fit with a company so adamantly anti leather skirts. Jokes aside, this company cared more about what I was wearing than what I was bringing to the table. Their weird did not mesh with my weird and, looking back, that’s totally okay.

This isn’t always the mindset we have when dating. Sometimes it’s easier to hold on to past hurts and rejections. But if someone doesn’t want me for me, then thank goodness they were honest about it! Who wants to end up with a long-term partner that doesn’t even like them?

In a peculiar way, job hunting helped me realize that I don’t have to take dating—or any relationship, whether platonic or romantic—so personally. As the saying goes, you win some and you lose some. But, as a different saying goes, it’s better to have loved and lost than to never have loved at all.

I think my therapist compared job hunting to dating to encourage me to find the value in the experience I was living through. Being too doom and gloom while job searching prevented me from taking in the sights along the journey. By comparing finding a job with dating, my therapist reminded me that dating can be fun. And even when it’s not fun, at least bad dates give us a story to tell our friends.

While I don’t think we should approach dating in the same way we do job hunting, I do think there are lessons to be learned from both. Admittedly, I wish the lesson was to write your cover letter like you would a dating profile. If it was as easy as that, all of my cover letters would start with: DTW (down to write)/ freaky grammar fetish (oxford commas and em-dashes excite me).

I like to believe the right match(es) for each of us is out there. Even if we have to apply to the partner role multiple times, and even if we discover that role is purely platonic. Just like life, dating is about the journey. Although, unlike life, dating is also about the destination. But that’s a different article.

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Editor's Picks The Ultimate Guide to Dating Love + Sex Love

All the words I wish I could have told you

I got rid of my last photo of you, and I immediately regretted it. I realized that I will never be able to use the photos I took, documenting our love, as a bookmark.

I regretted that on any suspecting afternoon, with the sun gleaming just right twenty years from now, one of those photos will never fall out of an old book in front of my children and they won’t ask about the boy in the picture with curly hair and reddened cheeks.

I regretted it because you are – you were – my first love. And a person only gets one of those in a lifetime.

When I finally left I reacted curt toward you, almost passive or indifferent, because I didn’t want you to know that this was killing me too. Because I wanted to be strong – because the alternative was weak. Because we met un-intentionally and you immediately became forever etched into my soul.

I regretted it because we were damned from the start – because I found happiness in you before I found happiness in myself.

But, the reality is that I didn’t even know that I was looking for someone like you to save me from my misdirection. In fact, all I knew was that I liked the feeling in my stomach when your bright smile landed in my direction. I liked the comfort I felt in your eyes, I liked being desired. And, I liked how the beginning of our love story sprouted as if it were straight out of a Nora Ephron film.

The thing about those movies, however, is that they always ended just before the story actually began and reality set in.

For whatever reason, I thought myself righteous enough to pop our bubble. To be the one who decides that there is something better, grander, more extraordinary beyond the story of us.

So, I let it go. I convinced myself that I needed to get away so that I could start feeling again.

But seared inside my mind, hidden behind my self-proclaimed and glaring passions for the best love story known to man – and my belief that you couldn’t possibly give it to me – are the photos of you that I took in sepia. My hand on your chest. The back of your head against a sunset. Our hands holding one another. A kiss stolen in a gas station parking lot. Your eyes meeting mine with affection from the driver’s seat when we stopped at a red light and I told you to smile.

I regret that I didn’t give us the chance to seize just one more moment together. I regret that I didn’t give us a chance.

I know that you broke my heart in little ways for a long time, but I broke your heart in a big way all at once. One does not cancel out the other.

I loved you unconditionally. You knew it, too, but you lost me. I waited until I had enough and I left.

I realized that it is better to be single and search for myself, then to settle for something I feel insecure in.

Don’t get me wrong though. Our ending wasn’t nearly as tumultuous as I am making it out to be, nor as I would have liked it to be. One second we were, the next we were not. And that was it. We just ended. There was no thunder, no lightening. Nothing.

Even now as I am sorting through what exactly happened, I still can’t help but think that if you loved me the way you said you did you would have treated me the way you said you would.

I wouldn’t have had to beg.

Even when we did eventually try to talk about us, instead of ignoring the elephant in the room with banter or seduction, I’d be speechless. I didn’t know where to start.

But, please don’t mistake my silence for indifference. I do still love you. I always will, except it’s not the same. We spent so much time together and I know that I am saying so little right now to make up for it. I know that this is unbearable, but I promise you that every word I wish to utter to you is in my mind. I just can’t bring myself to speak when you look at me like that. When you draw yourself closer, it is a bribe which I can’t commit to. So please take a step back, I’m so tired of this. I am drained. If I stayed, I would spend a lifetime choking on words I wouldn’t ever dare to say.

I invested in you and I lost myself. I became dependent. And to be honest, this was the last thing I wanted. I spent close to a year relying on someone I didn’t want to rely on – nor could I. I knew it was the end long before you did, and I held on anyways, just in case, because I have a drastic fear of letting go and moving on.

But how can I reconcile breaking your heart and leaving everything we had together in just a few short minutes. You say that I took you by surprise, that you didn’t see it coming – but I don’t know how. I gave you all of the signs. You saw my silent tears. I always knew I wanted more. I was destined for something different. I felt it, deep in my bones, I just never faced it until I was forced to. I was able to ignore my confusion because we laughed with one another. We couldn’t take our hands off one another. We ran home in the pouring rain together, stopping only to kiss.

We experienced the best of one another for a short period of time, and I know that our relationship lasted as long as it was meant to. We loved each other until we couldn’t. We chewed us up and spit us out. We got everything we needed to get out of one another. We fell in and out of love from worlds apart. But I still feel terrible. And I feel like I should be feeling more even though I have been overcome with intense conflicting feelings every day since we said goodbye. Every day for close to a year.

I guess I just want you to know that I didn’t make this decision in haste. I needed to get away in order to understand more of myself.

I regret not thanking you enough for watching me blossom and believing in me so that I could believe in myself. I should have told you just how much you helped me realize the endless bounds of myself, for better or for worse.

I should have thanked you for letting me go, even though it hurt like hell.

I regret doing this to you because you waited for me. Because I gave you dozens of silent chances in my head. Because you would take me back in a second and I am here telling you that I am confused. That I need more time. That is – time to think. Time to learn and explore and dream. But all you hear is that I need to do all of these things away from you, that I need time alone. That I would rather work on building my sense of self alone than by your side.

But I deserve someone who makes me feel alive. Someone who is generous and who makes my heart jump when I tell people that they are mine. And you deserve someone who doesn’t give you an expiration date.

I am scared that maybe I made a mistake, that maybe I am foolish, or maybe that this is all that my love amounts to. I am having trouble accepting the normalcy of the end of us. The lack of explosion.

I am scared that I will forget. I am scared that after a few months everything we had will feel just like a dream. A dream that is open-ended, a dream that will constantly be on repeat in our respective minds until the end of time. Fated to carry each other’s baggage.

I regret that I now have to give you to someone else. That someone else will nuzzle into your chest, and devour your smell. I regret that I gave it all up so easily and have only in hindsight realized the weight of my naivety. Or did I? Because I also remember being so incredibly devastated, and being met with oblivion, with dismissive niceties. I remember my anxieties being belittled or made to feel small. I remember that I didn’t have the means, or the patience, to heal you.

I remember crying on the dance floor a year ago. Turning around so that none of my friends would see. I was staring at your messages. They were curt, broken and hard to make sense of. I remember being confused, I remember when someone told me for the first time that I deserved a love that was better. A love that nurtured. A love I didn’t have to settle for. A love that swept me off my feet.

I regret that we were different together than we were around everyone else. That no one got a real glimpse of us, in love. I regret being so quiet. I regret that I couldn’t love you like you loved me. I regret that you couldn’t love me the way I needed you to. I regret that we’ve run out of things to say.

I regret that our relationship was already broken even when your fingers were strumming through my hair or when we sat across from each other on the floor in a fit of laughter.

I regret knowing it was the end before you did, and holding on anyways just in case. I regret not telling you just how nervous I was and just how serious I was when I said that I thought we lost our spark. Our magic.

I regret it all because I wish that I held on to those pictures for a little while longer. I wish I studied them. Even though I knew the ending wouldn’t change.

Neither of us can fully heal our heartbreak unless we are apart. We have to heal for ourselves, rather than for the possibility that one day down the line we will be together again.

Seeing you that day, when you came by to collect your things, actually helped me realize that I am better off without you. That I am happy now. Really happy. And I no longer doubt myself. I no longer rely on you for happiness. I no longer get angry or sad because you couldn’t make me happy.

In hindsight I had absolutely no idea who I was when I met you. I still really don’t. I’m not even sure that I knew what genuine happiness looked or felt like.

Maybe that’s what ruined us after all. My indifference. My sadness. All of which at the end of the day amounted to nothing.

Soon I will be able to think about you without ripping my heart out.

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Tips & Tricks Life

Journaling lets me remember my self-growth journey

I have been journaling for as long as I can remember. Occasionally, I like to skim through the top shelf of my cabinet and pull out one of my journals to read. Do I cringe when I read my younger self’s entries? Yes. But it’s all a huge part of self-growth. 

Journaling has proven to have many benefits, particularly for mental health. For me, the biggest benefit was the reduction in stress. As someone who is prone to have stress-induced panic attacks, journaling – whether it’s small doodles or a novella – has helped by giving me clarity and a place to express my emotions. A 2005 study found expressive writing to be therapeutic, noting that participants who expressed trauma, stress and other emotions through writing decreased their chances of getting sick significantly. In the long run, people who journal are less seriously affected by trauma as opposed to their non-journaling counterparts. Although I wouldn’t consider myself completely unscathed by my experiences at school, I do look back at my journals and applaud myself for the strength I mustered to get through it. 

So what does journaling do for the soul? Reduces stress and anxiety as well as boosts your immune function. Well, there are other benefits. One great one I have noticed in myself is the ability to put things into perspective. Journaling is a great regulator of emotions as when you write down how you feel, everything becomes comprehensible and once you have the chance to figure out your own emotions, you are presented with the amazing opportunity to be able to process other people’s too. It is a great way to promote self-growth and confidence as many people, myself included, read over their past personal struggles and either laugh at themselves or marvel in awe at the inner strength they didn’t know they had. 

And the best part of journaling? There are so many different styles you could go for. Days where I am feeling more creative, I’ll do some art journaling or bullet journaling. Some days, it’s easier for me to do an electronic journal (I highly recommend Notion because you type or record videos straight into the app). And you don’t have to do the typical ‘dear diary’ stuff. Make it yours. Of course, there are other tidbits people concern themselves with before they start writing, namely,  what do I write about

My easiest tip is to start writing about anything. There was a class exercise one of my lecturers used to do with us in my first year of university and that was writing for the first 15 minutes of class. “If you don’t know what to write, write ‘I am writing’ until the thought, any thought, comes into your head.” Although this is not a piece of advice I had when I first started journaling, it is something I would pass on to new journalers. Start where you are. The great thing about journals is that they are private to you so they can be two words or a whole novel if you want it to. Even if it’s just a single line, or what you had for lunch, write it. Don’t censor yourself. This is for you and it’s your personal journey. There is no right and wrong when it comes to journaling because it’s an experience so personal and tailored to the individual. 

So unlearn anything you had learned about ‘keeping a diary’ back in the earlier stages of education and go with what works for you because you don’t get graded on how you feel. I’m sure that you would appreciate the nostalgia and growth that comes with looking back at your journey in your journal as much as I do.

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Family Life Stories Life

This is my open letter of apology to my sister

Growing up, I had only a few friends. From the ages of twelve to sixteen, I had a grand total of three people I would talk to and even then, I only felt comfortable messaging one out of these three friends. But, the one consistent person in my life has always been my older sister, someone I owe a big apology to. 

When we were younger, my older sister and I were often called twins – we were so in-sync all the time whether it was sentences, responses, or even emotions. My sister is in fact just under two years older than I am and although she can be a bit up herself for being the older sibling at times, I can’t say I’ve never connected with her even though my sister was always a little more sympathetic to things than I was or even still am; if I shed a tear, she shed a waterfall. 

Exhibit A; I slipped headfirst into the side of the building and got a concussion at school one time in year three and she cried more than I did as she went off to get a teacher who basically told her to calm down because not a single coherent word was coming out of her mouth. Though I had to stay home battling a throbbing headache for the upcoming weeks, my sister would spend her time at school making get well soon cards for me and coming home to just sit with me. 

I remember when she was leaving primary school and on her last day, I was filled with dread because I realized that if I now had a spat with my friends, I couldn’t run off to my sister. She was now going to be somewhere that would require me to climb out of the school gates undetected, crossroads safely and not get kidnapped by the white van that appears to be everywhere. Far too much effort for the kid who barely got off the sofa once she sat down.

I got through that year anyhow and remember my sister giving me a pep talk before my first day of secondary school with the same sentence over and over: “I’m there if you need me.” It got really sour, really fast. 

Although undiagnosed at the time, social anxiety has always been a lifelong struggle of mine and I always took comfort in familiarity in my surroundings. I expressed to my sister how nervous I was about starting school on our walk there and she agreed for both of us to meet during break time in the school canteen. The first day had already been awful for me with the highlight of it realizing that I would be picked on by this one girl for the next five years. Her reason? She thought I was ugly. 

As I sat at a table waiting for my sister, a group of girls from my class walked past me making comments about how ‘ugly’ I was. I became the focal point of their laughter when my sister walked up to me and gave me a hug asking how my first few lessons were. I was suddenly torn between being in my safe space and fitting in – would I have been spared the embarrassment if I didn’t talk to my sister? I didn’t know it wouldn’t matter either way; the class bullies ran with it, teasing me relentlessly for the next five years. 

I got teased for a myriad of things during my time at secondary school, but it was all largely in comparison to me and my sister. She was tall, fairer-skinned (colorism at its finest), pretty, and above all, skinny. It didn’t help that she was also smart so whenever we had the same teachers, I would have to face comparisons by the teachers which would just become more ammunition for the class bullies. One girl in my class spread the rumor that I was adopted because there was no way one sister could be so beautiful and the other one so ugly. Another girl told me that my sister should be embarrassed to have such a fat sibling. The comments only got more demeaning from there.

I took it all out on my sister. I started arguing with her every morning so she would leave for school without me and purposefully get out of class really late so I wouldn’t have to walk home with her. Everything anyone has ever bought me down for, I would blame on her and I made sure she knew it. I bullied my own sister for my insecurities and that is a regret that will haunt me for the rest of my life. I regret my actions especially because my sister is a kind soul who has only ever encouraged me and waited patiently for me to work through any issues I was having.

It wasn’t until I got out of secondary school that I realized how awful I had been to someone who had never been mean to me – we came out of school with an overwrought relationship on my behalf. The road to healing has been long but my sister deserves to know that none of it was her fault and if I could undo it, I would.

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TV Shows Pop Culture

“Love Island” makes history by crowning first Black couple winners, Justine Ndiba and Caleb Corprew

On Wednesday September 30, Caleb Corprew and Justine Ndiba made history as the first Black couple to win Love Island in the franchise’s history. The pair, known to the internet as “Jaleb,” took America by storm for being an example of wholesome, unapologetic Black love without the struggle narrative that is often attached to it.

Throughout the reality show’s history across different continents/countries (United Kingdom, Australia, United States, etc.) Black women on Love Island tend to share a universal struggle finding potential suitors in the villa.

Firstly, there is often only one Black girl in the initial line up, and she is almost always chosen last. Secondly, Black women on the show like Samira Mighty from Love Island UK season 4, Yewande Biala from Love Island UK season 5, and Justine from Love Island US season 2 have literally cried as they watch their non-black counterparts adjust to their dating environment with ease, wondering why they can’t do the same. 

In one episode, Samira even highlighted the elephant in the room saying, “Unfortunately, not many guys in this villa go for me.” With such an obvious pattern of misogynoir, the audience has begun to pick up the sentiment that watching Black women try and fail to find love on this show is an inherent part of the Love Island viewing experience.

Correspondingly, the audience watched as Justine initially struggled finding a connection. This can be attributed to her being the only dark-skinned woman in the initial line up of contestants. For example, on her first day Justine showed her boldness and stepped forward first for a guy (Jeremiah White) to signal her attraction. He instead opted to choose another girl, who didn’t step forward for him but better fit within the confines of “desirable” western beauty standards. Jeremiah and Justine were eventually made to couple up anyway by chance of last pick. However, he emphasized many times in the beginning he only saw her as a friend. 

Eventually and luckily, Justine’s story arc defied the Love Island curse for Black women and she grew a connection with a guy who admired not only her strength but vulnerability. Once coupled up, he sought to vehemently prove to her how she deserved to be treated from the start. Enter: Caleb Corprew.

Upon entering the villa, Caleb was the first guy to really show romantic interest in Justine; though, the development of their relationship initially took some time. When he and Justine finally coupled up, the audience sat on the edge of our seats every episode, waiting for what we thought was the inevitable heartbreak Justine, like other Black girls on Love Island, would endure. However, episode after episode the pair defied audience expectations and projections. Together they proved that Black women could indeed find genuine love on this show. Due to the unprecedented nature of the pair’s representation of a healthy relationship, specifically for a Black couple, the two quickly became fan favorites of the season.

Justine and Caleb developed their own fan base on social media because the public noted the two’s potential to make Love Island history as the first Black couple to ever win a season. In addition, fans thoroughly enjoyed seeing a Black woman on the show prosper for once. Fortunately, the power of the fandom prevailed and Justine and Caleb were crowned the US Love Island winners of 2020.

Their win is special for many reasons, but this win especially meant a lot to Black women. Amid the resurgence of Black Lives Matter and the heartache that has come from the cases of Breonna Taylor, Megan Thee Stallion, Oluwatoyin Salau and so many other Black women brutalized by misogynoir, it was something truly special to be able to unplug and watch a Black woman be loved, loudly, and in real time on national television. 

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I’m a Black woman and Love Island fan who always holds my breath but roots for every Black female contestant to thrive on the show despite my apprehension. Most times, I’m proven right to be apprehensive; however, being able to now celebrate a Black woman’s win within this franchise means so much to me. Not only was I that insecure young Black girl who always felt like a last pick (if I was a pick at all), but being an adult Black woman watching society continuously brutalize or mock our pain hits differently.

For us Black women, Justine represents the silver lining amongst all this grief. If nothing else comes from this historic win, hopefully Black women can look at Justine’s Love Island journey and be inspired to persevere through hardship, bet on ourselves when no one else will, and begin to love ourselves the way we have always deserved.

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Food & Drinks Life

Cooking makes me feel guilty about food and here’s why

One hot summer afternoon, a hollow void was growing where my stomach had been. I was starving but had been putting off rectifying it after consulting the kitchen cabinets and finding nothing that I could eat with zero cooking. Even the early-2000’s America’s Next Top Model could not distract me and I began to feel lightheaded.

I could easily fry some paratha and be more or less satisfied but thinking of all that oil on the sizzling pan made me feel sick. From the corner of my eye, I spied an unopened box of couscous. Somehow, I had the patience to let the water boil before I poured in the couscous, adding in the tiniest pinch of salt. I brought half a bowl’s worth of plain couscous with me and returned to my little nook on the couch. 

The thought and act of cooking are certainly daunting for me.

It wasn’t laziness that had caused me to be this way. Well, not entirely. Preparing food is always perceived as such a technical and calming thing. Some people even plan their days around exciting meals. Yet, there is actually a recognized phobia of cooking that comes in many forms, ranging from the fear of following recipes to the fear of harming one’s self in the process.

I am not entirely sure if what I experience is a medical phobia, but the thought and act of cooking are certainly daunting for me. One on hand, I may be internally defying forced gender roles by refusing to be good at an act traditionally taken on by women. However, I know the real reason is something far more complicated and twisted.

When I’m in the kitchen, I am hyper-aware of the ingredients that are being put into my food and feel almost sick to my stomach. I can’t bring myself to follow recipes correctly because who knew everything needed so much butter? I skim down on the ‘unhealthy’ ingredients when I cook, and predictably, the food doesn’t turn out right.

Now, don’t get me wrong, while I have tried tracking what I eat, I mostly allow myself to indulge in food that I enjoy. Yet, in order to do that, I have to adopt a sort of ‘out of sight, out of mind’ mindset. I don’t want to see how my food is being prepared so that I don’t feel as guilty when consuming it. Knowing how much sugar went into it is sure to make me feel too distressed to eat it. When I don’t see it, I can fool myself into thinking it’s not a big deal. It is a coping mechanism I need.

Preparing food for myself triggers something toxic within me. If I am being honest with myself, I am scared that it will blossom into a condition that is more serious. Right now, I am just wary of cooking for myself. Yet, it could escalate into being more strict with calories, or skipping meals completely. I know I can’t continue having this relationship with food. I am holding myself back from enjoying life by refusing to be self-sufficient in this simple way. 

My own self-esteem issues were manifesting in the way I cook– or rather, refused to cook, impairing my lifestyle.

Acknowledging this behavior of mine has been crucial to overcoming it. Having someone cook alongside me as helped to ground me in reality and hold me accountable. A friend had told me, “Well, like it nor not, we need to add butter otherwise the carrot cake will be a sad brick.” Their words are brutally honest and correct. Why bother cooking if I am going to consciously mess it up anyway?

But more than that, recognizing the source of my cooking-induced anxiety is important in defeating it. While I could dismiss ANTM as a silly, ironic pastime, it does wire my brain a certain way. The bodies that these shows promote or bash creep up on me. These things subliminally plaster onto my mind, without me even consciously recognizing them. In an era of self-love, it may be difficult to recognize the self-criticism that lurks beneath. My own self-esteem issues were manifesting in the way I cook– or rather, refused to cook, impairing my lifestyle.

I know it will take a while for me to unplug the wires and reset them. With time, I hope to confidently cook food that I will enjoy without breaking a sweat about the amount of butter in the recipe. Continuing to learn how to cook can break me out of this cycle of guilt. While I don’t think I will get to the culinary level of needing a personalized apron, I am hopeful to see where this journey takes me.  

Mental Health The Pandemic Love + Sex Love

What is the new intimacy in a world without touch?

The COVID-19 pandemic has changed the very fabric of our lives in more ways than we can count. The entire world is uncertain; not knowing where to turn or who to turn to. It seems that the only thing that is constant is this sense of dangling amongst nothing. 

Before this crisis, many people would escape their routine to find some sort of getaway within the world of dating, but now COVID-19 has taken charge and made this nearly impossible. Being forcefully torn away from such a break keeps people trapped in the banalities of everyday life. Not to mention that all of those feelings of tediousness have become exacerbated in quarantine. I can say for myself that it feels like I am spiraling in this scenario which has no end in sight. 

Something that used to keep me grounded, the relationships that I have with the people that I don’t live with, is indefinitely and physically unattainable. I’m having a hard time grappling with the long-lasting implications that this has for our generation of young people and lovers. I’m afraid that Coronavirus is changing how we date. 

Relationships have become completely reliant on technologyand I’m turned off. Sure people have been online dating for awhile now, but there was always a possibility of something in-person. I hope that when the COVID-19 outbreak blows over virtual romance doesn’t become permanent. 

In-person chemistry is almost impossible to replicate; certain social cues, expressions, and emotions can only barely be acknowledged virtually.

Therefore, a very distinct barrier exists in terms of dating and love during times like these, and it’s not our fault. We can, and we will, do what we can to fill those gaps up until we start to brush against the walls of such technological limitations

For those same reasons, I am anxious about the lack of physical touch while in isolation for COVID-19. Being able to simply touch, or be near, another person is known to generate trust and sense of community. My boyfriend and I are not quarantining together, for simple and obvious reasons.

We didn’t live with each other before all of this either. But now, our relationship has been unprecedentedly restricted. I can see the strain. We depend on things like physical touch, even just being in the literal presence of each other to feel love and comfort. The lack of touch seems to be a completely different experience than this; maybe the opposite.

I feel unsure and as if there is a dull, whole body, ache that never gets settled. In the time since our ability to touch has been put on hold, I’ve recognized just how essential it is. I am hungry to be held, even if for just a minute. I can only try to mimic his open-armed grasp with a weighted blanket for so long before I have forgotten the sensation of it entirelyuntil it becomes a distant memory. 

Sometimes, during all of this, I feel strange in my own body. It is as if my skin is thinner than ever before. I am thinking that this sensitivity is because our distance has manifested in my mind as rejection. My relationship has been steady, but shaky, while in quarantine. There are just some things that can’t be duplicated. I have found that when him and I do talk on the phone, I don’t have much to say.

Not that there is nothing left to say, there is plenty, but that I don’t want to have to say anything to be with him. I am okay with just being near. Much of the foundation of our relationship is based on small physicalities that lay on those exact walls of technological limitations.

I just don’t want to forget about them or what they feel like. I need them in times like these; my body has been trained to rely on them to feel salvation from suffering. 

I am afraid that we, as completely social creatures, will become so deprived and lonely that we won’t know how to fix it when society opens up again. The result of our current isolation is way beyond ourselves and our actions, but the implications still remain. I can’t help but wonder if we are becoming too far gone from the depths of compassion to save whatever is left of it.

Skin Care Lookbook

My acne acts up when I’m really stressed — and I’m really stressed right now

All throughout my preteen and teen years, I’ve been locked in battle with my acne. I just feel like I’m never able to get it right for any substantial period of time before it flares up again and I’m left right back where I started: confused, frustrated, and uncomfortable. I tried everything I could before consulting with a dermatologist, who guided me in the right direction in terms of managing my skincare. But still, my skin is nowhere near perfect, especially right now. 

It’s hard to maintain and keep up with a solid skincare routine when I’m worried about keeping track of everything else. On top of that, my acne acts up when I’m under stress. So needless to say, quarantine has been a never ending fight between me and my skin. And I am losing terribly. The worst part is that my acne just makes me even more stressed – it really is a terrible, endless cycle. 

It feels ugly, too, because no one on TV or in magazines really has acne. Their skin always seems to be smooth, radiant, and totally flawless. I know that most of it is probably photoshopped, but still, it doesn’t really help my self-esteem. Plus, some people I know just have better genetics for skin, which means that they don’t really have to worry about it. When I see these things, though, I almost always feel like I’m doing something wrong, like my acne is something that I should be embarrassed about or ashamed of. Sometimes, I even feel like I want to hide. My acne has held me back from making progress in building my confidence because every time I look in the mirror, I see something wrong and flawed. 

Most of the time, when my acne gets really bad, I try to drink an exorbitant amount of water, eat healthier, and use a ton of aloe. During quarantine, however, I have fallen back into old habits. I don’t really eat very healthy and I am not exercising a bunch or getting much sunlight. This has not only brought out the worst of me, but also the worst of my skin. I thought that giving my skin a break from makeup and the wear and tear of everyday life would be good for it, but of course I was wrong. With all of the added stress of living through a pandemic on top of my normal stressors, my acne has gotten progressively worse. Surprisingly, I’m more dehydrated than I was before, and I eat much more junk food too. I’m also guilty of not really doing much to take care of my skin right now because I’m not seeing anyone or getting dressed up, and have just been incredibly lazy these past few weeks.

But now, I’m fed up. I don’t want to feel unattractive or upset with myself anymore. If I don’t do as much as I can to feel beautiful, both inside and out, then I won’t make any progress elsewhere. In any case, my skin certainly won’t heal itself. Basically, what I’m trying to say is that if I want to take care of my skin, I have to take care of myself and my mind first. So what I’ve been doing lately to work on this is listening to a lot of soothing music, doing some yoga in the mornings, and sitting by the window while I work so that I can feel the sun on my skin. I try not to go overboard with my skincare regime during a breakout because it will drive me crazy. Especially since the results are not immediate, which can become very frustrating after a while. I’d rather focus on doing things that make me feel good or feed my soul, because that is what will help me achieve an overall sense of beauty and confidence.

My issues with acne definitely won’t be going away anytime soon, so I think it’s important for me to realize that dwelling on it won’t solve anything. I just have to keep on keeping on.

Health Care The Pandemic Love + Sex Love

Here’s what happens every time you order NSFW toys during a pandemic

An Amazon employee has recently gone viral for his remarks about dildos during a protest prompted by increased coronavirus concerns. He was advocating for the e-commerce company to pull back efforts on the manufacturing of unessential items.

He said that while shipments on essential items have been delayed, even sold out, employees were still working shoulder to shoulder processing items that were unimportant.

This makes it impossible for the workers to practice social distancing policies while at work.

Terrified, and frankly exhausted, from having to risk his own life and his families life for these non-essential items, this employee suggested that the company prioritize essential shipments and decrease staff as well as the number of hours worked. 

He says, “They should not be selling non-essential items,” talking about the company’s policies. “If you go on the website, all of the essential items are sold out. Until you restock and until you close this building, shut it down.”

He added, “Dildos are not essential items. Books for kids, yes, but dildos? No.” He was obviously frustrated. 

It is important to say outright that NO, dildos are absolutely NOT a top priority right now. Neither are fragrant oils, yoga mats, bathing suits, or picture frames. Though they certainly do serve some purpose in terms of self-care. 

The obvious priority here is the lives of workers who are employed by Amazon. It is no secret that Amazon hires predominantly low-income people to work in its facilities, while also having a disturbing history of poor working conditions

This makes it even more unsurprising that in the middle of April Amazon fired at least two employees who were outspoken about the mistreatment of warehouse workers and other safety matters surrounding COVID-19.

But, by May 1 Amazon VP Tim Bray resigned after much dismay about the firing of those whistleblowers who raised serious alarm, which is a notable sign of empathy and solidarity, and might even be something we can all learn from as we make our own shopping decisions.

As consumers, it is imperative to understand our responsibility to those who are working despite their vulnerability. These people should not be forced into serving the lifestyles of those who don’t really care what happens to them.

Which brings me here:

As the COVID-19 pandemic has grown more intense, and people have become more isolated, it seems that they have fallen on dildos for some sort of salve. For many people, dildos are among the lists of items that are an absolute necessity to make it through times of crisis. And there’s a reason for that. 

Dildos, and masturbation in general, are known to have outstanding mental health benefits. They have also been associated with improved sexual wellness and of course, self-love.

We can knowingly reach the big O from our own doing, and there is a lot of power in that. In some cases, dildos have also been known to increase blood flow in the clitoris, increase sexual arousal, help the body make it own lubricant, and therefore make more pleasurable sex possible.

Orgasms are good for your health, too. According to a Next Avenue report, sex that satiates a persons desire triggers hormones that help us to feel relaxed, less stressed, and more contented. 

So, what can we do to keep exploring our personal sexuality at home without the possibility damaging the life of someone working in an Amazon warehouse? Well, for one, there are other e-commerce options to shop from that don’t have a cruel history like Amazon does. Or, we can buy small and local. Let’s face it, no one is going to stop ordering online, especially when all storefronts are closed. But we can be smart about what we order and who we order from.

One alternative is Grove Collaborative, which sells a nice selection of household essentials and personal care items. This e-commerce site values social welfare and is known for being safe and environmentally friendly, as it is working towards being entirely plastic-free. All shipments from Grove collaborative are non-toxic, cruelty-free, and are carbon-offset before they reach your door.

A second option is Verishop, which is just as convenient as Amazon but offers a more curated selection. Most of its products are sustainable and natural, making it a more organic shopping experience. This e-commerce site usually ensure free 1-day shipping on most order made within the U.S., but during the pandemic this policy has shifted to free 2-day shipping. Which is not a bad deal in my book. Plus, its sexual wellness selection seems to be hand-picked and rather expansive.

With all of this in mind, we are better equipped to keep loving every part of ourselves at home while also making safe and compassionate online shopping decisions that protect workers and the environment!

Health Care Mental Health Love Wellness

I need a coping mechanism for my coping mechanism

Ever since I was young, I have been very nervous. I get anxious about trivial tasks, I am a perfectionist, and I have a problem saying no when someone asks for a favor regardless how busy I might beI always say yes. A lot of this has translated into intense migraines, lip chewing, nail biting, and hair pulling. That last part is what I hate most about my anxiety. It is called trichotillomania.

For people with trichotillomania, hair pulling is a way of dealing with negative or uncomfortable feelings like stress, frustration, or loneliness. It involves recurrent, often irresistible, urges to pull hair from areas of the body despite attempts to stop.

Psychology Today says, “it is an impulse-control disorder and one of several body-focused repetitive behaviors currently classified in the DSM-5 as Obsessive Compulsive and Related disorders.” 

Most people do not even know what trichotillomania looks like.

I have experienced this since the fourth grade, and I want to stop desperately. It distresses me, it’s incessant, and often makes me self-conscious about my appearance which only exacerbates the hair pulling. Some days I don’t even recognize the girl looking back at me in the mirror; she is not who I want to be.

Mine mostly focuses on the eyebrows and eyelashes, and usually occurs without me even really realizing that I am doing it. I could be reading, sitting in class, or watching TV and I am completely unaware….until I realize and curse at myself for it. The worst is when I realize that I have been standing in the bathroom, the door shut, hyper focused on pulling for an hour.

For people with trichotillomania, hair pulling is a way of dealing with negative or uncomfortable feelings like stress, frustration, or loneliness.

My mental health disorder is unpleasant, silent and lonely. Most people do not even know what trichotillomania looks like, or frankly what it is, which makes it difficult for me to talk about candidly or even to explain. 

You see, the thing is that I am the only person I know who lives with this, and I have a hard time putting my anxiety into clear words because of it. It doesn’t even make sense to me! I only found out that I was trich after a series of long and exhausting nights spent with my parents, who sat across from me for hours wondering why I would do this to myself.

It is more than just a habit. It is a disorder and I was alone.

Why can’t I just stop? They would just keep saying that I was beautiful and smart hoping that this would persuade me to stop. I’d sit there red faced, my body hollow from crying so much, wanting it all to just stop, too. They’d beg me to tell them what was the matter. And the truth is, I really did have no idea what or why. I still don’t.

One day I decided that I didn’t want to upset my family anymore because of this. I wanted answers. So, I typed what I did to myself into google I immediately knew this was something serious. It is more than just a habit. It is a disorder and I was alone.

I can’t help it and I can’t “just stop.”

This realization just made me feel more helpless. Sure, there are a lot of people who love me and wanted to help me, but no one understood exactly what this was. They don’t understand what it feels like to be completely out of control. I can’t help it and I can’t “just stop.” It doesn’t work like that, regardless of how much I wish that it did.

What doesn’t help either is that trichotillomania is not a part of popular conversation surrounding mental health. You only know about it if you are directly affected by it, but at that point, shame has surely already kicked in. I used to pray that no one at school would notice, even though I knew that it was hard not too.

If you just take one look at me it becomes obvious that something is wrong. I felt weird, trapped, and very angry. I quickly learned how to color in my eyebrows to make them look full, or to appear to be “normal.” This, of course, was only sustainable for some time. 

Eventually my parents brought me to a therapist, and I hated it at first. I didn’t want to talk about it anymore. I think I was either really nervous or in complete denial. But the therapy helped and we talked about things that I could do to ease my triggers. We tried so many things.

Getting it all out of me, and put somewhere else feels better, and I like that it gives my hands something to do.

One suggestion was that I put vaseline on my eyebrows to stop my ability to pull. Another was that I wear a hair tie around my wrist and pull that when I’m nervous. My parents even bought me a prayer bracelet and a worry stone, which is known to reduce anxiety and create some sense of calm.

This helped me the most, but now that I am older I rely on my writing a lot more. I fill journals with streams of my consciousness, all of my thoughts,  my nerves, and my perfectionist tendencies until I feel like I rid myself of it. Getting it all out of me, and put somewhere else feels better, and I like that it gives my hands something to do. It keeps me busy so that I don’t dwell on it.

No, I am not cured and I never will be. I know that this is something I will live with and have to treat for the rest of my life, but I am okay with that. I am glad to be a work in progress.

Of course, it won’t be easy and will require a lot of discipline, attention and self-love to handle, but I am so grateful to finally be confident enough to open up about my trichotillomania. I don’t want to be quiet anymore. 

Love Life Stories

I was in denial, until a stranger in Germany helped me confront my past

When I was younger, I was sexually assaulted.

What happened to me set a precedent for the way I experienced intimacy, the way I perceived romantic relationships, and the way I felt about myself. For the longest time, the overarching narrative in my head was that men, even those I came to love, could (and would) hurt me one way or another and that when they did, I deserved it. 

Naturally, the narrative self-perpetuated and I made poor choices involving shitty people.

As far as I was concerned, someone who lied and cheated and claimed to love me was as good as it would get. When I did meet people who seemed genuine and caring, I was afraid of them. I was a master of self-sabotage, lashing out whenever I felt vulnerable.

I always thought that I just needed to grow up and get over it. My craving for intimacy fought hard to break through the mental barriers that were set in place, but they only seemed to reappear every time I convinced myself that I had made progress.

Picture taking down a wall brick by brick, and every time you remove a brick and set it down, you do so in such a way that you just end up building another wall. Only now the wall stands at a slightly different angle, and perhaps you built it to appear a little less haphazard.  

I always thought that I just needed to grow up and get over it.

I knew for a long time that I needed something to break the cycle. I tried meditation. I tried running. I tried to pretend like it never happened. But none of it worked, and I was at a loss, until… I wasn’t. 

I was about five weeks into my post-graduation backpacking trip around Europe. I had spent the last couple of days wandering around the city of Hamburg, drinking hot chocolate and getting stranded at Germany’s largest port. Needless to say, it had been an eventful (and tiring) couple of days. So, I decided to spend this particular evening sitting in a corner of my hostel’s common room and making a dent in the book I was reading. 

In between chapters, I struck up conversations with fellow travelers and made plans to meet this one girl for coffee the next day.

We found ourselves in this little alternative cafe a short walk down the road from where we were staying. I enjoyed a slice of blueberry cheesecake while we made small talk and swapped travel stories. 

She eventually started asking questions about my upbringing: What was it like to grow up in Saudi Arabia? How accurate were the depictions of the Kingdom in the media? 

She was curious about my personal experiences and we delved deeper into my life than I anticipated. But she seemed genuine, and I found myself opening up about my strained relationship with men, and how I felt like the root of it all could be traced back to a few key moments in my life.

I told her about how I was sexually assaulted, more than once, and forced to carry the blame. She just looked at me, nodded, and said: “That must have been really hard for you.” It was oddly grounding, almost as I had never really allowed myself to see it that way.

She just looked at me, nodded, and said, “that must have been really hard for you.” It was oddly grounding.

She took a breath and opened up about her own experience of sexual assault. I just sat there, listening to this beautiful girl talk about the man who hurt her, unable to understand how she seemed so calm, but she had made her peace with what had happened.

She was living a full and beautiful life; he had no hold on her here.

She offered to share a poem she had written during the aftermath. I remember how hard I worked to keep my hand from shaking while I held her phone. I remember still how the room felt when I set it down and looked up to see she was now crying too. I remember just sitting there, holding her hand across the table, feeling my chest grow a little bit lighter.

I was sexually assaulted.

I can say that now or, I guess in this case, I can type it without feeling my entire body tense in the apprehension of an uninvited hand reaching out to wander across my skin. But I didn’t get here alone, so this is an ode to the person who really helped set my healing in motion.

She wasn’t a mental health professional. She wasn’t someone I had known for years. She was just a girl who had experienced something dark, and, through it all, had chosen to live a full and happy life.

What she didn’t know, was that in doing so, she had given me permission to do the same.

Books Life

The story of Paddington helped me learn to love myself

I was recently reminded by an Atlantic article about a small bear I had grown up with named Paddington who came from “darkest Peru” and liked to eat marmalade sandwiches. In the essay, the author explains how she felt a kinship with Paddington as a Latinx immigrant navigating a completely new culture that can so often be unfriendly to outsiders. Michael Bond, the author of A Bear Called Paddington based Paddington’s origin story on the stories of families displaced by World War II, so I’m sure for many children it gave them a connection to someone who might have been just like this bear.

For those who aren’t acquainted with him, Paddington Bear is a small bear who wears a wide red hat, a blue coat, and a tag around his neck that reads, “Please look after this bear. Thank you.” He is discovered by Mr. and Mrs. Brown in the Paddington railway (which is how they give him his name) and they take him to live with them in Windsor Gardens, London.

While I grew up in America, I was introduced to Paddington by my Tibetan grandmother who lived in London. While I simply enjoyed Paddington as a good story, I now wonder whether my grandmother also felt a kinship with this small bear. Having lived a large part of her life in India, my grandmother eventually moved to London where she lived alone, as my grandfather had died at a fairly young age. She was always a semi-mysterious character, short, with hair perfectly styled and a fashionable scarf often wrapped around her head or neck. She would often send packages for birthdays or no reason at all. Each arrived with a special smell that was slightly flowery, but somehow also spoke of her personality. Whenever I think of her I remember this smell and the chocolate digestive cookies she would often bring. I think about her often and wonder if sometimes she felt a bit like a Paddington at times, navigating her way through a busy city, despite having come from a place full of mountains and magic – he from Peru and her from India.

Stories like this are so vital to children and adults alike. We are becoming a society that relies much more on technology to communicate rather than face-to-face contact. Although we can develop online communities, there’s something about human interaction that fulfills the spirit and reminds us we are not alone.

Growing up, I have always loved the book Chrysanthemum by Kevin Henkes. Not only are its illustrations endearing but the story itself is a reminder of how we are always worthy of love. Just because there are those who will judge and try to break us down doesn’t mean there aren’t others out there who love us for being purely ourselves. Chrysanthemum is a story about a little girl mouse named Chrysanthemum who has loved her name since birth, that is until she goes to school, where all of the girls in her class proceed to make fun of her.

“I’m named after my grandmother,” said Victoria. “You’re named after a flower.”

However, when a new music teacher named Mrs. Twinkle assigns them roles for a school play and gives Chrysanthemum the role of a daisy, the other girls are quick to tease her for not only being named after a flower but literally being a flower. When Mrs. Twinkle asks them what’s so funny, the other girls explain the cause of their derision. But to their astonishment, their pregnant teacher has an equally long name – Delphinium – and absolutely loves the name Chrysanthemum, even suggesting she might give it to her future child. After her announcement, all the bullies ask to go by names of flowers. Chrysanthemum leaps out of school, realizing that she still loves her name and it’s perfect like she always thought.

Looking back on it now, it seems so silly, but bullying or hateful comments mean the world when you’re young. Being different or sticking out means you will be reminded of it every day and told that it makes you unlovable. Having a character that you can read about over and over and feel solidarity with is a warm reminder that we are all lovable and we are all trying to find our way, whether we are a small mouse who is determined to love her extra-long name or a bumbling bear from Peru who loves marmalade sandwiches.